Stigma, Discrimination, and Obesity
KELLY D. BROWNELL
Negative attitudes toward obese people constitute one of the last socially acceptable forms of discrimination. With the increased prevalence of both child and adult obesity, the number of people potentially affected by this bias is large. The literature on this topic is scattered, but when brought together, forms a clear picture of discrimination against obese persons that occurs in key areas of living.
Experimental studies point to widespread weight bias in virtually every stage of the employment process. Overweight individuals are at a disadvantage even before a job interview begins. Studies have manipulated perceived body weight of fictional employees through vignettes, photographs, or videos, while holding credentials constant, and then asked participants to evaluate applicants’ hiring potential. Overweight employees are evaluated more negatively than average-weight employees and rated as being less likely to be hired. This bias is especially pronounced for sales positions in which overweight applicants are perceived as unfit employees and more appropriate for jobs involving little faceto-face contact.
Discrimination appears to continue once an overweight person is employed. Overweight employees are perceived to be lazy, sloppy, less competent, lacking in self-discipline, disagreeable, less conscientious, and poor role models. Such negative attitudes likely contribute to additional weight-based discriminatory practices such as unequal wages, denied promotions, and wrongful termination.
Some evidence shows that overweight women, for the same work, receive less pay than average-weight women. Overweight women are also more likely than thinner counterparts to hold low-paying jobs. Obese men are underrepresented in higher paying managerial and professional positions and are more likely to hold lower-paying jobs. Obese